Making it harder to go to hell from
By Mickey Noah
On a bluff overlooking the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, Lamar Duke weeps
and prays for the lost people living in the Pittsburgh area below. Lamar, along
with his wife, Dolly, has served the last six years as director of missions for
the Baptist Association of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Some 3 million live in the association’s nine-county area, and there’s only one
SBC church per 61,225 people.
"We believe that approximately 2 million of those people are unchurched," says
Lamar. Only five percent of the metro Pittsburgh population claim to be
evangelical Christians. "There’s a lot of religion here, but there’s not much
relationship with Jesus. That’s what drives me. It gets me out of the bed in
the morning and keeps me up at night."
Although ranked as the 22nd largest metro area in the United States, Pittsburgh
also has a small-town feel—comprised of some 1,600 boroughs, each with its own
ethnic and religious traits. Some 140 identifiable ethnic groups call
"Our vision here at our association is that we cannot rest until there is a
vital, evangelizing, discipling, reproducing church within driving distance of
all the 3 million people in the nine counties of southwestern Pennsylvania, and
a church where they can worship in their heart language."
Lamar believes church planting is the most effective and efficient way to reach
those 2 million unchurched people in his association.
"So we’re doing everything we can to salt and seed the area with the gospel,"
says Lamar. "The more salvation stations we can create, the more opportunity
those people have to hear the gospel."
Since coming to Pittsburgh six years ago, Lamar has had a direct or indirect
hand in the number of churches in his association increasing from 38 to
71—probably up to 75 in the near future.
One of the fellow church planters Lamar has motivated and coached is Larry
Walker, pastor of West Hills Baptist Church, a 35-year-old church. West Hills
once had only 60 each Sunday but now sees a weekly attendance of 90. Another
500 are touched each month via the church’s extended ministries.
"A church that comes back is a church that begins to get in touch with their
community and starts thinking outwardly," says Lamar.
West Hills Baptist did just that. The church started ministering in
neighborhoods and communities. It now supports a pregnancy center, holds Bible
studies for the elderly at a senior high-rise apartment, and works with the
homeless in downtown Pittsburgh.
"Lamar has a great burden for lost people and a great burden to see new
churches planted here in the area," says Larry. "It’s good to hang around with
him and catch the vision God has given him about seeing other churches
In addition to West Hills’ own ministries, the church also now houses a
separate Hispanic church, trying to reach the 30,000 Hispanics living and
working in greater Pittsburgh. Another Duke disciple, Moises Rosario, pastors
"Lamar has a great vision and is a great man of God," says Moises, an Hispanic
church planter who, in addition to the West Hills church, has helped plant
Hispanic churches in Moravia, Oakland, Coraopolis, Grove City, Erie, Altoona
and Martinsburg, Pennsylvania.
Lamar believes churches plant churches—not associations, state conventions,
agencies or mission boards.
"So our goal is to enable, equip, and empower our churches to catch a vision,
have the resources, and partner and sponsor with other churches to get new
church plants off the ground," Lamar says. "There’s no reason to plant a church
if you don’t intend to reach people for Jesus Christ. We’re not planting social
clubs here, we’re planting churches.
"We just want to make it hard to go to hell from Pittsburgh."
OMMickey Noah is NAMB’s news consultant.
Lamar Duke– North American Missions Emphasis Worship
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC